From NJ Transit to World Cup: How much can business community be asked to cover?

As budget dance begins, there will be plenty of pushback on priorities from number of parties — but only 3 opinions really matter

The most important word of Gov. Phil Murphy’s 6,149-word budget address on Tuesday is this one: proposed.

The governor’s nearly hourlong address certainly elicited strong reactions all afternoon — particularly from the business community.

But, it needs to be noted that the governor’s wish list is just that: a wish list. That’s the takeaway from Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship.

“The budget is a negotiation,” he said. “The governor proposes and the Legislature disposes. What the governor offered officially today is highly unlikely to be the final version that is signed in June.

“And, I think negotiations are not just with the Legislature, but with lots of different constituency groups, including the business community.”

After promising to sunset the 2.5% Corporate Business Tax surcharge, the governor proposed the 2.5% Corporate Transit Fee (essentially the same thing, although it impacts a fewer number of companies).

Murphy went out of his way during the speech to thank the big companies — “in advance” he said — for stepping up.

The early word from the business community is that companies are not racing to get to the front of the line.

They have concerns that the state already is asking for donations to New Jersey’s World Cup costs (the ask is supposedly as much as $150 million). And, if you believe the whisper campaigns, they are the same companies that may be feeling a pressure to support first lady Tammy Murphy’s campaign to be a U.S. senator.

How many hands does the state have to reach out with?

It’s a delicate dance, Dworkin said.

“Obviously, the money to support all of the things that are being prioritized has to come from somewhere,” he said.

And, while some progressive groups may be under the impression that companies have a money tree, the reality is, they don’t.

And the reality is, they may not take kindly to groups they support philanthropically celebrating the fact that companies are being asked to pay more.

It was suggested by some that companies may begin to hold back donations — or, rather, shift that money to some of these new asks.

New Jersey Policy Perspective put out a statement saying the Corporate Transit Fee isn’t enough — and that the state needs to reimpose the entirety of the Corporate Business Tax surcharge.

Peter Chen, a senior policy analyst, called out any company that would hold back its philanthropic donations. He also said he feels any company suggesting doing such a thing is just playing politics.

“This sounds more like a desperate attempt from the Big Business lobby to buy sympathy more than it sounds like a real threat to nonprofits,” he said. “If you look at the data, corporate donations make up less than 1% of nonprofit revenue, but I can see why they’d try to make this about charity rather than the merits of a tax cut to corporations making record-breaking profits.

“Giving companies like Amazon and Walmart a tax cut isn’t an easy position to defend, I get that, but it’s pretty gross to threaten nonprofits over this.”

Opinions. Everyone’s got them on budget proposal day.

In the end, Dworkin said, only a few will matter.

“This is like a high school dance, where everybody is there at the beginning,” he said. “But it’s the beginning of the dance, and, gradually, people leave.

“In the end, there are going to be three dancers left: the Assembly speaker (Craig Coughlin), the Senate president (Nick Scutari) and the governor. And they’ll have to make the final call on a lot of these tough issues.

“This whole thing will take place over the next couple of months. And a lot of people will offer their thoughts. But, in the end, there’s only going to be three people in the room and they’re going to have to cut the deal.”